Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Kilimanjaro: A Case of Meaningful Adventure and Service Learning Abroad

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Kilimanjaro: A Case of Meaningful Adventure and Service Learning Abroad

Article excerpt


This qualitative evaluation explored how female undergraduate students developed an understanding of themselves and the broader world as a result of an adventure and service learning experience in Tanzania, Africa. The project built upon theoretical frameworks regarding meaningful learning-active, constructive, intentional, and authentic-and applied activity theory as a framework for interpreting outcomes. The study included multi-faceted examination of student perceptions of the effects of the year-long experience that culminated in a ten day trip to Tanzania, including a climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Students' reflections on the impacts of the trip focused on wanting, doing, reflecting, and relating. Thus, the experience catalyzed change in students' understanding of the world that strongly indicates a meaningful learning experience.

Keywords: Learning abroad, Adventure learning, Activity theory, Meaningful learning

Instilling the capacity in graduates for teamwork, problem-solving, intercultural understanding, and global awareness has been central among the goals of higher education as articulated by employers and government agencies in recent years (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009; UNESCO, 2000; UAE MOHESR, 2007; AAC&U, 2011). Learning experiences provided by undergraduate colleges that have a liberal education approach align well with these goals. A liberal education prepares graduates to "deal with complexity, diversity, and change" (AAC&U, 2011, p.3) by integrating knowledge of the world and social responsibility into a field of study. These capacities must be developed in authentic contexts that counter the "natural habitat" of many urban college students: indoors, using devices, traveling in climate controlled transport through very little green space, and exercising in gyms (US Department of Labor, 2013). Stretching students outside of their comfort zone provides experiences that counteract "nature-deficit disorder" (Louv, 2005).

Structured educational travel experiences, including adventure learning trips, have become a strategy used in colleges and universities for developing valuable personal growth (Sterling, 2010). There are many benefits reported for student wilderness travel, such as increased awareness of one's current group, surroundings, and the experience itself. It also leads to a mindfulness due to a focus on the experience as well as formation of supportive long-term bonds and results in increased college retention, improved self-awareness (Torsney, 2008), and raised global engagement (Paige, 2009).

Nine students from a women's college in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) chose a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro to mark the 25th anniversary of their college, becoming the first team of Arab women to reach the summit. This article reports the impact of the adventure and service experience in Tanzania, Africa and how it impacted the personal transformation of the group of female Emirati undergraduate students. Qualitative analysis of interview data was used to explore how the team experienced personal transformation in their understanding of themselves and their world as a result of the climb and the associated service project at a Tanzanian school.

Literature Review

Adventure learning experiences may focus on personal growth and support the formal learning outcomes of the academic curriculum. In research, adventure learning participants have reported personal impacts from the challenging experiences in nature that comprise planned adventure learning in education (McKenzie, 2000; Marsh, 2008). For example, outcomes of an Outward Bound course included increased self-confidence, expanding personal limits, and increased respect for others (Martin & Leberman, 2005) as reported by participants.

Relevant to our women's college, women's adventure programs have been associated with increased personal growth, tolerance, self-esteem, confidence, as well as acquisition of technical skills and improved level of participation in leadership development (Stone & Petrick, 2013). …

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